Three research students studying how stress impacts performance, the management of water resources from space, and the structure of piezoelectric materials have each won $5000 prizes in the 2016 UNSW Science Postgraduate Research Competition.

Three runners-up also received $3000 each for their research on a wearable sensor for monitoring sun exposure, on the fear response, and on the development of a miniature x-ray generator.

Almost 80 students participated in the competition in which they were judged on the quality of an abstract and a poster outlining their research project and findings.

Their third and possibly most difficult task was to give a one-minute long presentation summarising their work in front of a large audience in Leighton Hall in the Scientia Building at UNSW. Judging criteria included communication style, clarity and audience engagement.

Science broadcaster and presenter of the ABC Science Show on Radio National, Robyn Williams was a celebrity judge of the event and plans to highlight the research of some of the students on his program. Other judges included leading researchers from UNSW Science and other UNSW faculties.

In congratulating students for their engaging presentations, Robyn said there were many benefits in learning to communicate their science well. “It tells you more about your own work, by having to put it simply and directly,” he said.

Those who follow careers in science would have to give many presentations, and “doing so with flair will make a vast difference.”  Those who take a different career pathway will still need to be able to express themselves well, he added: “It’s a great skill for life.”

Associate Dean (Research), Professor Chris Tinney, said the postgraduate research competition was highlight of the year, showcasing the huge breadth of the research being carried out.

The six prizes, along with the People’s Choice Award, were handed out by Acting Dean of Science, Professor Peter Lovibond, who said that having good communication skills paid many dividends, including helping in the competition for research grants.

The six winners and runners-up will use their prize money to travel to international conferences or go on research visits. The winners will also represent the Faculty at the UNSW Three Minute Thesis Competition on Thursday 8 September 2016.

There were five main categories: Cutting Edge Discovery; Energy and Materials Science; Science and Society; Climate, Environment and Sustainability; Health, Lifestyle and Ageing.

The 2016 winners are:

Patrick Tung (Materials Science & Engineering), Energy, Materials Technology

Title: Desirable disorder: the imperfect atomic arrangements of piezoelectrics

Vera Newman (Psychology) Science and Society

Title: It's all in your head: Using virtual reality to understand how stress impacts in task performance

Valentin Heimhuber (BEES) Climate, Environment, Sustainability

Title: Managing Water Resources from Space

The 2016 runners-up are:

Emily Yap (Materials science and Engineering) Energy, Materials Technology

Title: Making of a Micro X-Ray Generator

Metaxia Kokkinos (Psychology) Science and Society

Title: Secure attachment relationships reduce fear learning

Parisa Sowti Khiabani (Chemistry) Health, Lifestyle, Ageing

A Paper-Based Wearable Sensor for Monitoring Sun Exposure

People’s Choice Award

James Christian (Chemistry) Energy, Materials Technology

Title: Investigating New Materials for Next Generation Batteries

ABC science broadcaster and celebrity judge Robyn Williams